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Trump's next chief of staff will need to signal certainty to markets, a former Reagan chief of staff says

Key Points
  • It will be crucial for President Donald Trump to signal certainty to government with his pick for John Kelly's successor, according to a former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan.
  • It will be important for markets, too, Kenneth Duberstein, who held the role during the final months of Reagan's presidency, tells CNBC.
  • "Investors like certainty," Duberstein says. "Any perceived foreign or domestic uncertainty creates problems for the markets. The president needs to define the role of chief of staff in the next several weeks as he heads into the next two years of his term."
Ken Duberstein, former Chief of Staff to US President Ronald Reagan, speaks on NBC's 'Meet the Press' during a taping at the NBC studios June 6, 2004 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | Getty Images

After a year and a half of tumult during John Kelly's tenure as chief of staff, it will be crucial for President Donald Trump to signal certainty to markets and government with his pick for Kelly's successor, according to a former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan.

"Investors like certainty," said Kenneth Duberstein, who was chief of staff during Reagan's final months in the presidency. "Any perceived foreign or domestic uncertainty creates problems for the markets. The president needs to define the role of chief of staff in the next several weeks as he heads into the next two years of his term."

Trump announced Saturday that Kelly would leave his position at the end of the year, triggering a D.C. guessing game about who would be next to take the highest staff position in the White House. It is not yet clear who will fill the role, although several possible contenders have been mentioned in various media reports, such as GOP Rep. Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Trump's top choice for the position, Nick Ayers, took himself out of the running when the two failed to reach an agreement over the weekend. Ayers, who works as chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, will leave the administration at the end of the year, as well.

The headwinds facing the next chief of staff will be stiff. Trump and his next top aide will have to contend with a divided Congress, the Mueller investigation, the trade fight with China and other battles over tariffs.

While Kelly is on his way out and a successor is not yet named, Trump would do well to lean on experienced hands in his administration, according to Duberstein. "I would expect Mick Mulvaney to be a congressional negotiator while a chief of staff is chosen," he said, referring to the White House budget chief and former congressman.

Duberstein stressed that the role of chief of staff is pivotal to the foundation of stability and certainty in an administration. The president traditionally relies on the chief of staff for their judgement and expertise.

Duberstein was Reagan's chief of staff from July 1988 until Jan. 20, 1989, when George H.W. Bush took over as president.

"My role then as chief of staff was to make sure there can be no hiccups. It had to be smooth and sure," said Duberstein, who was also Reagan's deputy chief of staff during the Washington summit with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"We're in a different political world now," Duberstein said. "Under Reagan, the White House was run with a high level of decorum, honor and respect."